Monday, 27 October 2014

SHETLAND! Part 3 Days 7-10

Day 7

Another quiet day, at least for rarities. After yesterday's fall there had clearly been a clearout and only about 10% of the previous day's robins and thrushes remained. The rubythroat had finally gone. A small low pressure system brought N - NE wind and it was overcast with occasional light rain. Highlights included a YBW, 26 barnacle geese (over the house), tree pipit, 3 slav grebes and a peregrine carrying a small wader, probably a dunlin. It was clearly a brambling year, with plenty of small groups about.

Adrian Kettle, founding member of the Hoswick Grass Appreciation Society

George Cross 2 - Bandanaman helpfully looks on

Day 8

A small to moderate arrival of redwings today. What had come in with them though? It had been an excellent autumn in the Northern Isles for little bunting and OBP and we'd already found one of the two. We headed north to Voe and had a poke about the gardens.

After a while with not much seemingly around, the four of us converged on a garden where a spotted flycatcher was showing. As we were watching it, Young George suddenly exclaimed, 'OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT'! We were all very impressed by this quick call made without a hint of hesitation. The bird had snuck onto the lawn in front of us and instantly flew with a second (mystery) bird. We had very brief views of it as it landed on a wire, before dropping out of sight into long grass, still inside the garden. Things were looking up!

We spent more than an hour trying to get better views and trying to confirm the identity of the 2nd bird which we suspected was another OBP. We had a couple of glimpses but even after permission from the homeowners to go into the gardens we couldn't refind them. Eventually I was summoned back to the car over the radio. It was time to move on. Reluctantly I started along the road towards the car but after a few paces I stopped. I radioed to indicate I'd be another 10-15 minutes as I wanted to walk back the long way to do a final check of the gardens.

As I rounded the corner the two pipits lifted off the ground and went into the lower branches of a conifer. They were both behaving, and calling, like OBP's, rather secretive with a liking for long grass with small conifers. Fieldcraft was now of utmost importance to avoid flushing them. I dropped to the ground and alerted the others. The rest went according to plan and soon we all had excellent views of one bird as it tail-pumped low down in a pine, as well as confirming the second as being of the same species. We were delighted. George had made an excellent find and the whole team worked hard to confirm the second bird's identity. These two were even twitchable with a number of birders travelling to see them later that afternoon.

With news of a Western Bonelli's warbler at Scalloway, we headed back south, feeling rather positive. On arrival it was apparent the warbler wasn't easy to see. There was an extensive area of gardens with mature sycamores to hide it. But after a couple of hours we played Western Bonelli's call and Baggers to his credit, got straight onto it. It showed reasonably well but didn't respond to the playback, remaining silent throughout.

In the evening we met up with about 10 other birders and had a curry in Lerwick. Baggers sported his trademark headgear and when we stopped to ask locals for directions their first response on seeing Garry in the car was an astonished, 'Is that a bandana??!'

It was an enjoyable night and although I didn't discuss the warbler's I/D with anyone, it did become apparent that no-one knew anything about its discovery and doubt grew in my mind about the certainty of its correct identification. After the curry I told the others we should go back for another look in case it was actually an Eastern but my suggestion was met with apathy. Baggers was more keen on seeing shelduck and snow bunting as we had started competing with the Sumburgh-based Boozy Birders in the trip listing stakes. In true Baldrick fashion however, I had a cunning plan!

Day 9

For the second time this holiday, drastic action was called for. I started a Birdforum thread, highlighting the possibility the warbler might be an Eastern. My evidence may have been flimsy but it had the desired effect in turning attention on the bird. We returned to the site armed with orientalis playback, and it responded with the same call! Local birder Phil Harris even relocated it from its call round the corner to where we were stood. The call was never easy to hear, and was only picked up by about half of the ten or so people present, though some of us heard it more clearly later on in nearby gardens.

With the bird now MEGA'd as EASTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER, birders started arriving and a crowd of perhaps 30-40 people assembled. The bird showed on and off but remained stubbornly silent and was now wise to the playback. Paul Harvey turned up with some rather hi-tech-looking sound recording gear but the warbler wouldn't play ball.

I couldn't believe I'd had a tick!! The warbler went on to stay for another couple of days and was heard again by one or two experienced observers but in general it remained silent. I learnt it had actually been found by an old friend of mine who had heard what sounded like a YBW and followed it, only to find the Bonelli's. He retracted his original I/D, believing he had in fact originally heard a yellow-browed.

We drove to Hoswick where we had excellent views of a SIBERIAN STONECHAT, found just that morning. All too soon our holiday was at an end and we caught the evening ferry back to Aberdeen.

Day 10

We journeyed home via Norfolk to see the Steppe grey shrike, my fourth, but my first (in fact THE first) for this county. It was the seventh BB rarity of the trip and the 4th MEGA, and it showed like a dream. We went home very happy. Scilly V Shetland? No contest, I'm afraid!

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